Anthony Zinni Interview (2007): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Challenges for U.S. National Security Policy,î General Tony Zinni, former Commander in Chief of the Central Command (1997-2000), April 23, 2007

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The Post - Cold War World

In your book you're laying out an agenda for the United States that takes account of the realities in the world, now that we're beyond the Cold War and in a new millennium. Let's talk about that. How has the world changed? Because before we can talk about threats, we have to say, "This is a different world, and this is why."

It became a very different world beginning in 1989, 1990, with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The half-century of two superpowers that controlled everything, [that] in many ways determined many of the outcomes, loyalties, structures in the world, had now just simply evaporated. It unleashed or at least became a catalyst for other things that began to rise up. For example, globalization began in an economic sense but moved into global governance in other areas. It generated the rise of non-state entities, some out trying to do good, restructure society, some obviously not so good: terrorist organizations, extremists, drug cartels, etc. It gave rise to the information age, the exchange of information. Obviously we had the internet, we had the ease through information technology of gaining a lot of information and communication. Access to technology was greater, it encouraged and allowed more migrations, almost diasporas in many cases, that changed the complexion of societies. And it opened up a flood gate of a whole series of things whose confluence then changed the world: rise of new powers, changing some of the ways we interacted. Sovereignty and the role of the nation state was diminished a great deal, and it encouraged the rise in instability.

In many ways, because it was a zero-sum game, the superpowers bought off loyalty and support. That was no longer there, so the natural instabilities, either generated by nature, generated by man, caused by ethnic and religious differences, all began to rise to the top, and these began to generate a whole series of unstable conditions around the world that manifested itself in a way that increasingly was washing up on our shores. And we were missing this. I think we believed there would be a "peace dividend," a natural reordering, and this was beginning to happen around us when we still looked past it. I also think we weren't prepared for it and we hadn't made the adjustments, or the adaptations, to deal with it.

The theme that emerges throughout your book [is that] global events create instability by interacting with the complex ways that history and geography have molded people [who] have evolved a different point of view of the world than ours. In other words, things are going on in the local area which are a product of history and geography, and we have to keep that in our mind because it's the interface with that reality, with these global events. Talk a little about that.

All those things are the definition of the composition of culture. We are a product of all those things over time: history, geography, traditions, beliefs, and all the systems that go into making up what might define a culture. That culture is the prism through which we have to deal with changes, all the changes I mentioned, that deal with the onslaught of modernity. For some societies it may be easier to cope with that, like ours, although we have certainly difficulties in many ways. For more traditional or conservative societies it may be much harder. The Islamic world, 1.23 billion people, are now undergoing a tremendous transition, and maybe the first part of this century will be defined as to how well that transition goes. They're trying to observe modernity, sort through it and see what they can benefit from this, but at the same time make sure that this doesn't compromise their beliefs, their culture: is there some way that they can square that with their culture?

When we enter that society and we attempt to change it, and change it in our model, it won't work necessarily. In many cases the change needs to come. There are things and practices that obviously -- like the role of women, and other things -- that I think are generally accepted that need to evolve and change. But how will that come about? How can they bring forward the traditions they value, and shape them in a way to accept the forces of modernity that are coming over them? So, when we intervene, much like we did in Iraq and elsewhere, we have to understand this.

We may find that there's nothing in Islam, for example, that prevents representative government. Will it be Jeffersonian democracy as we know it? Well, certainly I don't think so, certainly not in the short term. It may be some sort of compromise, a constitutional monarchy with some representative form of government, and it will have to evolve maybe more slowly over time. We have to be careful about bringing the goals and objectives we may have, formed in the way we have evolved, and try to impose them on a society.

Next page: Cultural Understanding

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